Meet the recipient of the Daily Point of Light Award, Dawn Isbell. Read the story and nominate an amazing volunteer or family as the Daily Point of Light.
San Diego resident Dawn Isbell has volunteered Balboa Park Forever since September 2020, contributed over 385 hours of volunteer service. Dawn volunteers as a member of the Rose Garden Corps and Visitor Services team.
A member of the Rose Garden Corps, Dawn maintains the park’s award-winning Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. Duties include pruning, weeding, fertilizing and more. Fajar is also an Ambassador for the Botanical Building, greeting visitors to the Botanical Building as well as providing information and directions.
Helping people find their way and planning their visits, Dawn is a valued volunteer throughout the park. Read on to find out what inspired him to dedicate his time and talent to Forever Balboa Park.
What inspired you to volunteer?
Well, I’ve always loved going to Forever Balboa Park. I’ve spent a lot of time there and my kids loved going there when they were little. We would go to museums and parks, and they would learn to ride bicycles there, celebrate their birthdays on the playgrounds. We always love that place.
In the summer of 2020, the San Diego Rose Society, where I’m involved, issued a call that the park needs volunteers in parks. I didn’t know you could do that. I’ve stepped away from some of the other jobs I do and my kids are older so I have time. That sounded like a lot of fun, so I started volunteering in the rose garden. It is a beautiful place, people stop by and enjoy the roses. They came and took pictures in the park. I just had fun and did it for about a year.
In the fall of 2021, they invited several park volunteers to work on the historic botanical building. They ask people to come and host, to be ambassadors for the park. This means being friendly, answering questions, talking about history. And I just fell in love with it! It was the most fun thing I’ve done in a long time and I want to keep doing it. Botanical building closed for renovation. And I missed it! Then, they call on park ambassadors at the visitor center, working at the information center, to be tour guides. I signed up for all of it.
It’s great to share a beautiful place with people. You meet people from all over the world, all over the country, and some who grew up all their lives in San Diego. Everyone has their favorite things to see and do, and it’s a fun place to be. People ask me, “How was your day?” And I said, “I work in the garden and talk to friendly people. It doesn’t get any better than this! I have one of the best jobs.” I haven’t had a bad day there since I started.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My heart truly lies in the rose garden. I have a very small garden in my own house and have been gardening roses since I moved here. So I’ve always been interested in that. Going there about once a week or so and making friends out there is great fun. It’s just growth and peace and little children walking around. There are bird watchers and so many people who really love gardens. I have baby pictures of my kids in that park! This is really my favorite place. I also miss the botanical building, and once it reopens I will be signing up to volunteer there again.
Any stories of value from your volunteerism?
Hard to choose because everyone is so attractive. But one of my favorite groups of visitors is in the botanical building. These large groups of 10 or 12 elderly people came wearing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger T-shirts, hats and scarves. This older man is celebrating a milestone birthday and his nickname is Tigger. He wears a big Tigger hat. All the children and in-laws came to San Diego and they had a day in town before going on a cruise. They came to Balboa Park that day. I love Tigger so I love meeting and chatting with them!
Why is it important for people to get involved with causes they care about?
I think of “giving back” more as sharing. If you really enjoyed something, wouldn’t you want to share it with others, if and whenever you could? Like I said, I have fond memories of gardens and loved learning so much about them. My kids are grown now, and I love coming back in a different way, seeing things differently.
I always learn something new. We have over 100 years of history but there’s always something new too. I study and it’s interesting. I really enjoy it and having the opportunity and ability to share it with people, so I love doing it. Everyone comes up with something new.
What’s your advice for people who want to start volunteering?
I’d say start with a small commitment. I started with a rose garden one morning a week and a meeting once a month. I already have some familiarity with it.
Part of what makes volunteering with these organizations so much fun is that everyone is so friendly and helpful. They go out of their way to make sure volunteers get what they need. Our CEO goes for a walk around the park, learns everyone’s names and wishes them a happy birthday. There is a woman who has worked in the rose garden for 40 years and helps train you. This is awesome.
So start small, find a group that is welcoming and friendly and will teach you what you need to know. Then you will know if it is for you. If so, that’s great. If not, it always gets your foot in.
I want to give a shout out to the other volunteers – especially the Wednesday afternoon crew, they are the best! We have over 300 volunteers at parks, visitor centers and trails. They’re friendly, they’re helpful, they’re a great bunch of people to work with.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Dawn? Find local volunteer opportunities.